Roopkund, a high altitude glacial lake in the state of Uttarakhand is also a famous trekking destination for adventurers across the world.


At 22,300 ft - the views are breathtaking and the mysteries around the Skeleton Lake make it equally spine chilling.

Roopkund lake
Source: India Hikes

For decades, the discovery of skeletal remains around a lake in the Himalayas known as Roopkund and the identity of the dead has remained a great mystery.

Bodies around Roopkund lake
Source: Euttarakhand.com

The puzzle has now been partially solved, after a 10-year research study from the Centre for Cellular & Molecular Biology (CCMB-CSIR).

Scientists revealed that the remains belonged to people from Indian, Mediterranean and Southeast Asian populations.

This means that the skeletal remains represent the first ancient DNA samples that have been derived from three distinct genetic groups, reports The Indian Express.

Piles of bones around Roopkund trek
Source: Vargis Khan

According to the study, the identity of these skeletal remains has long been subject to a lot of speculation.


Locals believe a pilgrimage to the nearby shrine of the mountain goddess, Nanda Devi, was undertaken by a king and queen and their many attendants and servants. They say the wrath of Nanda Devi due to their inappropriate celebratory behaviour resulted in their horrible demise.

Another version was the possibility of an epidemic striking the region.

Nanda Devi's temple, Roopkund
Source: Namaste India Trip

Now according to reports, ancestors from India died at Roopkund during 7-10th century CE due to distinct events.


The other two groups, probably travellers from the eastern Mediterranean and Southeast Asia arrived and died at the lake between 17th and 20th centuries.

Cracked skull around Roopkund lake
Source: Bikat Adventures

Scientists have traced the identity of these remains back to the Indian, Mediterranean and Southeast Asian populations. The remains of 23 individual skeletons have been linked to people from present-day India.


These too, do not belong to the same population but to distinct groups.

Remains near Roopkund trek
Source: Trekking India

Officials from CSIR-CCMB, spoke to media and said:

The second large group is made up of 14 individuals with ancestry that is most closely related to people who live in the eastern Mediterranean, especially present-day Crete and Greece. A third individual has ancestry that is more typical of Southeast Asia.
Remains near Roopkund trek
Source: Alpine Climbers

However, the study does not reveal the cause of death.


But according to Dr. Kumarasamy Thangaraj, co-senior author and chief scientist at the CSIR-CCMB, natural disasters like avalanche, rockfall or icefall may have led to the deaths.

He said:

We first became aware of the presence of multiple distinct groups at Roopkund after sequencing the mitochondrial DNA of 72 skeletons. While many of the individuals possessed genetic information typical of present-day Indian populations, we also identified a large number of individuals with genetic makeup that would be more typical of populations from West Eurasia.
Semi-frozen Roopkund lake
Source: People.com

Even stable isotope reconstruction of the skeletons support the presence of multiple distinct groups among the remains, consistent with the genetic evidence.


So after decades of mystery, we finally know about the remains of 400-600 individuals scattered around the shores of the Roopkund Lake.